Somehow, someway, Steve Torrence went winless in the first five races if his Top Fuel title defense. Since then, he’s been pure gold with eight wins and a runner-up finish in nine events. The only blemish on an otherwise perfect record is a loss to Mike Salinas in the Bristol final. Torrence’s latest victory, the 35th of his career, came at Denver’s Bandimere Speedway when he defeated Clay Millican in the final. It wasn’t pretty, but Torrence’s 4.044 was enough to hold off Millican’s 4.126 after both cars lost traction down track. Hours later, the familiar Capco train horn, which is used to celebrate each victory, echoed across Bandimere Speedway.
As the low qualifier, Torrence got a bye run in the opening round and later scored wins against Richie Crampton and Brittany Force. Torrence was vulnerable in the second round when he slowed to a 3.970 from his earlier 3.8-second pace but Crampton wasn’t in a position to capitalize after smoking the tires in his Kalitta Motorsports. DHL dragster.
Force also smoked the tires in the semifinals in her special edition Carquest dragster and that sent Torrence into his ninth-consecutive final round with a 3.821. That gave the Capco driver lane choice over Millican, who used a 3.825 to defeat rookie of the year candidate Jordan Vandergriff, who turned in another solid outing in his DA Lubricants dragster.
“Clay and I have a long history. I’ve known him since I raced an Alcohol Dragster and last year we fought it out for the championship,” said Torrence. “He’s a seasoned driver and I didn’t realize how close it was. I saw him move early then fall away so I knew he smoked the tires. I breathed a sigh of relief and thankfully we still had the momentum to win it.
“I had a bye in the first round and the driver managed to not screw it up and we ran well for the rest of the day. Against Richie Crampton, you can’t take them for granted. They can run low E.T. of the race. I didn’t’ do my best job on the Tree, but when you have a car that is as consistent as ours, sometimes you benefit. It gives me a lot of confidence.”
Torrence now has 35 wins as a Top Fuel driver, which ties him with NHRA legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. For all of his recent records and achievements, that mark might be the most difficult for Torrence to comprehend.
“I don’t even know what to say, it’s very humbling to be mentioned in the same sentence as that guy,” said Torrence. “He pioneered so many things and he was the greatest. I still don’t realize what we’ve been able to accomplish. I relish these moments because they don’t last forever.”
Millican, coming off a successful Epping race that included the No. 1 qualifying spot and a semifinal finish, remained consistent in Denver with wins against Doug Kalitta and defending event winner Leah Pritchett. Millican also qualified his Mike Kloeber-tuned Parts Plus dragster in the No. 7 spot with a 3.867. While he’s still seeking his first win, Millican now has three runner-up finishes on the season. He was also a finalist in Gainesville and the Charlotte Four-Wide race.